Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mad Men-The best drama on TV

I would've never thought that a TV show about people involved in advertising in the 1960's would've been any good at all, much less one of the best shows I've ever seen, but Mad Men is a truly remarkable achievement. It was created by Matthew Weiner (pronounced Wy-ner) while working as a producer and writer on the monumentally awful Ted Danson show Becker. He shopped the script around to all the major networks, with no interest. David Chase got ahold of it and loved it so much he offered to have Weiner join the staff of his show, The Sopranos. Weiner was an executive producer and writer for The Sopranos until it ended, and he then began shopping around his script again. He was lucky to find that cable channel AMC was looking to start producing original programming and figured they would take a chance on something a little different rather than spin out the same shows the other networks did. They also weren't afraid of Weiner wanting to cast relative unknowns in all the major roles (despite interest from many prominent actors), helping the audience to more easily lose themselves in the show.

The show itself revolves around Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his life both in and out of the offices of the Sterling Cooper ad agency. As a character, Don is very much in the mold of Tony Soprano. He can be a good man, a good husband and father, and is brilliant at his job. But he also cheats on his wife Betty (January Jones), with multiple women, is a casual racist and misogynist (not that that separates him much from the times), and has a shady past that no one really knows anything about. Yet Jon Hamm is so magnetically sensational in the role, that we can't help but be on his side even when he's occasionally doing terrible things.

Our entry into the world is somewhat through the eyes of Don's secretary Peggy Olson (the extraordinary Elizabeth Moss), whose first day on the job is the first episode of the show, so we learn as she learns. Peggy is naive, but intelligent, ambitious, and very hard working, which puts her in Don's good graces immediately. She is shown around the office by the queen bee of the secretaries, Joan Holloway (the wonderfully curvacious Christina Hendricks), who lets her in on the finer points of dealing with the men in the office. One of the men that stands out the most is a slimy young ad man named Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), who just seems to rub everyone the wrong way, especially Don. Another that stands out in the crowd is Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Don's boss, and hedonist extraordinaire. I could keep going with some of the amazingly well crafted characters we meet, but the shows ensemble is so strong that I'd keep going all day.

Probably the biggest theme of Mad Men is change. The show starts off in early 1960, so there is still very much a 50's attitude among many of the characters, but there's also the widespread cultural change of the 60's which is in its infancy at the time. The Nixon/Kennedy election is on the horizon, the government is cracking down on truth in advertising, and Don has to figure out how to sell Lucky Strikes now that research is coming out saying that cigarettes are dangerous. We see some elements of change in Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff), a fiercely intelligent and forward thinking woman taking control of her fathers department store. She and Don butt heads, and Don is not used to being challenged by a woman in the workplace. But we also see a different kind of change brewing in Don's mistress Midge (a delightful Rosemarie DeWitt), an artist and proud beatnik, very much involved in the pre-hippie culture in Greenwich Village (she doesn't own a TV, and her "big plans for the night" sometimes simply involve "getting high and listening to Miles").

I can't talk about this show enough, or do it real justice in my talking about it. But I'll just say that if you found Tony Soprano as intruiging a character as I did, then you'll love Don Draper. I've only seen the first season, because it's the only one on DVD, but the show has finished its second season, and is apparently doing very well in the ratings, and is cleaning up at the awards shows. I'm sure I'll be talking about this show more in the future, but I just wanted to plant the seed of interest in anyone who may've not known just how tremendous everything about this show is. Outside of The Office, it's probably my favorite show on TV right now.


Anonymous said...

I thought Mad Men was amazing when I first started watching it but I drifted away from it halfway through the first season. It started to feel like it was all style and no substance, and I didn't really like any of the characters, but I'd be willing to start watching it again. There is definitely no show on TV that looks that great right now. I never know when its on though because I don't watch AMC.

Kyle said...

I thought it was a lot of style, and less substance, but not "no substance". When I started watching the special features on the DVD and listening to the commentaries, I realized that it's more that the style gets noticed more than the substance. It actually has a ton of substance, just not always on the surface where we're used to seeing it. That's yet another reason I compare it to The Sopranos.

I think the unlikability of some of the characters is what makes it interesting. We come into this world with Peggy, and we like her a lot, but she changes throughout the season, and not always for the best. Don is not a good guy, but I find Jon Hamm as magnetic an actor as I did James Gandolfini, and even when he's being terrible I can't take my eyes off of him. I also think that seeing characters like Peggy and Harry (the guy with the glasses) be sort of good people who're almost descending into the hell occupied by people like Don and Pete, is very interesting.

I don't know when it's on either, and I've only seen the first season. I know it came out on DVD about a month before the second season started, but I hope we don't have to wait that long for the second season to come out on DVD.

kathy said...

This is my new favorite show, and I can't wait for the new season. DVD is the only way to watch, with no interruptions! My friends really love this show too, so it is good even for the over 40 crowd.